'Gift giving is relatively easy', thought Julie, as she strolled through the third department store of the morning; 'it's the gift buying that's the problem.' Why was everyone so difficult to buy for?
Nobody had a decent hobby to buy for - no stamp collectors, knitters or fans of the latest trendy thing on TV in her family! Oh no, they were all free spirits, flitting from one thing to another several times a year. Or worse, they had no interest in anything. So how do you buy gifts for people like that?
The fall back was so boring. Another beautifully wrapped pair of socks. Books that they would never read, probably gifting them back to Julie for her birthday. By far the worst was the dreaded gift voucher. The gift that said 'I have no idea what to get you and I can't be bothered to give it any thought or time, so here's a piece of plastic for you to stick in a drawer and forget.'
The shelves of the store heaved with tempting items; beautiful silky scarves, cut glass vases, bottles of scent in every size and design. But still nothing that screamed out 'Buy me for Mum!' She could have bought dozens of things for herself and her friends but Mother was another matter.
Julie had always struggled to buy gifts for her mother. Each birthday, Christmas and Mother's Day she'd worried about what to get. When she was a small child she carefully wrapped something she'd made at school or Brownies and wrote a card in her best writing, concentrating so hard that her tongue peeped out of the side of her mouth. She fretted about whether the present was good enough, would please her mother and make her smile. And every time her mother would smile a stilted smile, tear the paper off and with a 'That's lovely, dear' dismiss Julie's gift for another year.
As Julie grew up she realised that she would never buy a gift that thrilled her mother. The things she bought went through stages - the childish handmade gifts of her early childhood; the endless bottles of scent of her teenage years; the too expensive, trying too hard gifts of young adulthood. Sometimes these gifts vanished upstairs to her mother's bedroom never to be seen again; sometimes the gifts re-appeared after a few months to be re-wrapped as a gift for someone else. The latter was the most hurtful of all - it was her mother saying 'This wasn't good enough for me but it will do for someone else'. It felt as if her love was being parcelled up and passed on to someone else, someone that Julie had not intended it for.
The jolly seasonal music filtered into Julie's consciousness once more and she found herself humming a cheesy tune from her youth. Around her shoppers bustled, looking stressed, hot and angry. The yearly ritual was obviously a chore for many of them and judging by the scowls and frowns on their faces they felt as rubbish about it as she did. Her fingers clenched in her pocket and a wave of anger swept over her. Why was she wasting her time doing this, fretting about this, knocking herself out worrying about a gift for someone who'd hate whatever she gave her?
It felt like an epiphany. She didn't have to do this. This was a social convention that she could choose to ignore. The gift she chose would always be a disappointment to her mother and a disappointment for herself. Julie turned around and strode towards the exit. A blast of chilly air hit her in the face as she left the store, making her eyes water. This year she'd avoid the disappointment, the forced smile and the feeling of failing at a fundamental daughter skill. This year she'd watch others give gifts that her mother would find inadequate and smile to herself.
Julie headed to the card shop and was again embraced by warmth and seasonal songs. She walked slowly along the display and selected a watercolour of roses in muted violet and blue. As she queued to pay she began composing the message to write inside. A few words, nothing too flowery or soppy, her mother hated that. Julie would convey her love, enjoy her mother's company and not have to worry about the dreaded present opening moment. This year would be different.
This would be Julie's gift to herself.